Autumn Graham (Fiji)

Autumn Graham (Citizens’ Constitutional Forum – CCF - Fiji): Autumn grew up in Nouvelle-Calédonie, a French overseas territory in the South Pacific. During the ten years she lived abroad with her parents, she attended 5 different public schools, followed by high school near Montreal, Québec. Autumn earned her BA from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a regional concentration in Western Europe and a focus on French politics. At the time of her fellowship, Autumn was pursuing her Master’s of Art in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, with a concentration in international negotiation/conflict resolution and post-conflict studies.

Fiji’s *Her*story

26 Jul

Fijian society is a strongly patriarchal and hierarchical society. As the highest authority in a village, the chief’s decisions are final and beyond questioning. I have wondered why for example communal landowners express discontent toward tenants for small lease revenues when the chiefs receive 55% of all rental incomes. I have been told, simply put, that it is no one’s place to question a chief or to voice displeasure concerning their authority. Everyone Fijian knows his or her place in the grand scheme of things and does not overstep the imposed and rigid boundaries. Women of my acquaintance have shared how difficult it is for a woman to get divorced. The difficultly does not lie in the law but in the culture, divorce is simply not a done thing, and brings shame on the woman.

Last Saturday I was asked by Women’s Action for Change (WAC, a local NGO) to help facilitate their youth empowerment pilot project. It was an amazing experience.

Their new pilot program involves training young women to become peer mediators in their secondary schools. Every Saturday, for 16 weeks, 14 female students, from 5 secondary schools, come together to learn mediation techniques and the principles of restorative justice. There were both Fijian and Indo-Fijian participants.

This particular Saturday was focused on gender. The opening activity of the day had the young ladies selecting a female and male of their acquaintance and listing the *chores* both individuals do on a given day. They could compare themselves and their brother, their mother and father, etc. With the exception of two participants, the women selected did more chores than the men. In many cases the female performed twice as many duties during a day. While many of the participants had an idea that they or their mothers did more chores than their male counterparts, they did not fully appreciate the extent of the disparity. This also allowed both the Fijian and Indian
students to see their lives had common facets.

The main activity of the day involved participants plotting the *Her*story of Fiji. The young ladies noted the experiences of women, from pre-contact to the present. This was an eye opening experience for them – they thought about history in a different light. They imagined what life was like for women at various times. I was very impressed to see how engrossed they were in the task – everyone participating and adding information to the timeline. The young ladies actively considered the life of women in Fiji, past and present, both Indian and Fijian.

They began questioning the way their world functioned.

Posted By Autumn Graham (Fiji)

Posted Jul 26th, 2006

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